Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and how you can use its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
Cato the Younger at The Louvre. Image via Wikipedia.
This week’s entries comes from the Roman politician Cato the Younger, who’s famously known for opposing the emperor Julius Caesar. These quotes do not come from Cato’s personal writings, but from Plutarch, a famous biographer who spent time with Cato.
“I will begin to speak, when I have that to say which had not better be unsaid.” — Cato the Younger, Plutarch’s Lives
This is summed up well later on in the medieval Latin text Distichs of Cato, which is thought to have been largely based on Cato the Younger’s teachings:
“The primary virtue is: hold your tongue; who knows how to keep quiet is close to God.” – Dionysius Cato
What It Means
Many of us have a tendency to say whatever we think and feel, but in many situations that is unwise. Words have the power to do a lot of good, but they also have the power to hurt, anger, or essentially dig yourself into a hole. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
Cato also said:
“Consider in silence whatever any one says: speech both conceals and reveals the inner soul of man.” — Cato the Younger, Plutarch’s Lives
Speech was designed by man as a way to openly communicate with one another, but it’s so often used as a tool for treachery and misdirection. If you can learn how to keep quiet and only say what’s necessary and true, you’ll never fall from virtue.
What to Take From It
If it isn’t clear already, silence is golden. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe is right, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you only speak out on the things that truly matter to you. There is little benefit to saying things “just because”, especially in an unstable environment. Every word you utter can do damage or be used against you.
Before you speak out, ask yourself, “Does this need to be said?” If not, keep quiet and focus on yourself. When in doubt, follow advice from your good friend Thumper: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.